"I have long argued that the giving of offence, and even hate speech, should be a moral matter but not a matter for the criminal law. That is as true on the football pitch as on the streets. We should always challenge racism. We should also always challenge attacks on liberties in the guise of faux antiracism." Kenan Malik

Archive for March, 2010

Multiculturalism Undermines Diversity

‘Has multiculturalism been good or bad for Britain?’ It’s a question to which the answers have become increasingly polarised in recent years. For some, multiculturalism expresses the essence of a modern, liberal society. For others, it has helped create an anxious, fragmented nation.

Part of the difficulty with this debate is that both sides confuse the lived experience of diversity, on the one hand, with multiculturalism as a political process, on the other. The experience of living in a society transformed by mass immigration, a society that is less insular, more vibrant and more cosmopolitan, is positive.

As a political process, however, multiculturalism means something very different. It describes a set of policies, the aim of which is to manage diversity by putting people into ethnic boxes, defining individual needs and rights by virtue of the boxes into which people are put, and using those boxes to shape public policy. It is a case, not for open borders and minds, but for the policing of borders, whether physical, cultural or imaginative.

The conflation of lived experience and political policy has proved highly invidious. On the one hand, it has allowed many on the right – and not just on the right – to blame mass immigration for the failures of social policy and to turn minorities into the problem. On the other hand, it has forced many traditional liberals and radicals to abandon classical notions of liberty, such as an attachment to free speech, in the name of defending diversity.

The irony of multiculturalism as a political process is that it undermines much of what is valuable about diversity as lived experience. When we talk about diversity, what we mean is that the world is a messy place, full of clashes and conflicts. That’s all for the good, for such clashes and conflicts are the stuff of political and cultural engagement.

But the very thing that’s valuable about diversity – the clashes and conflicts that it brings about – is the very thing that worries many multiculturalists. They seek to minimise such conflicts by parceling people up into neat ethnic boxes, and policing the boundaries of those boxes in the name of tolerance and respect. Far from minimising conflict what this does is generate a new set of more destructive, less resolvable conflicts.

To say that clashes and conflicts can be good does not mean, of course, that every clash and conflict is a good. Political conflicts are often useful because they repose social problems in a way that asks: ‘How can we change society to overcome that problem?’ We might disagree on the answer, but the debate itself is a useful one.

Multiculturalism, on the other hand, by reposing political problems in terms of culture or faith, transforms political conflicts into a form that makes them neither useful nor resolvable. Rather than ask, for instance, ‘What are the social roots of racism and what structural changes are required to combat it?’, it demands recognition for one’s particular identity, public affirmation of one’s cultural difference and respect for one’s cultural and faith beliefs.

Multicultural policies have come to be seen as a means of empowering minority communities and giving them a voice. In reality such policies have empowered not individuals but ‘community leaders’ who owe their position and influence largely to their relationship with the state. Multicultural policies tend to treat minority communities as homogenous wholes, ignoring class, religious, gender and other differences, and leaving many within those communities feeling misrepresented and, indeed, disenfranchised.

As well as ignoring conflicts within minority communities, multicultural policies have often created conflicts between them. In allocating political power and financial resources according to ethnicity, such policies have forced people to identify themselves in terms of those ethnicities, and those ethnicities alone, inevitably setting off one group against another.

The logical end point of such policies came with Communities Minister John Denham’s announcement last year of £12m for white working class communities. There are clearly many working class, predominantly white, communities crying out for resources, not because they are white, because they have been politically and financially abandoned over the past decade.

Denham’s £12m will, however, do little to solve any of the structural problems facing such communities, such as a lack of jobs and social housing. What it will do is reinforce the idea that whites have an identity, and a set of interests, that is distinct from the identity and interests of other groups.

The aim of Denham’s policy is clearly to ward off the BNP in areas such Barking and Dagenham in East London. Its consequence, however, will be to feed the BNP’s own pursuit of white identity, and to legitimise the idea that such identity needs privileging. And that is perhaps the biggest indictment of multicultural policies: they have helped turn racism into another form of cultural identity.

To challenge all this, we need to separate the debate about immigration and diversity, on the one hand, from that about multiculturalism, on the other, and defend the one, but oppose the other. The lived experience of diversity has been good for Britain. Multiculturalism has been bad.



Norwich Agency’s Advert For ‘Polish Speakers Only’

A Norwich-based recruitment agency has defended itself after advertising for jobs for Polish-speaking factory workers.

OSR Recruitment Services was looking for staff to work at a meat factory and sent out an email to prospective staff which said: “Applicants must speak Polish.”

But today the company said that it was also taking on staff of other nationalities and said “lessons had been learned” from the incident.

OSR, which has been based in Norwich since 1997 and also has offices in Ipswich and King’s Lynn, had been asked to provide 100 factory staff for Forza Meats, which is the largest supplier of cooked meats to Asda supermarkets. The company is temporarily using some of Bernard Matthews’ site in Great Witchingham, near Norwich, due to a fire at its factory in Clenchwarton in Yorkshire.

The story made headlines in a Sunday newspaper, and the email drew criticism from shadow immigration minister Damian Green, who said: “Anyone applying for this job will feel that it’s hugely unfair that they can only work for that company in this country if they can speak a foreign language.”

Today director Mario Bardwell said he was “quite upset at the sensationalist handling”. He said they had also recruited workers of other nationalities, but on that particular occasion they needed people at short notice to take part in an induction being carried out in Polish.

Mr Bardwell said: “An e-mail was sent to approximately 60 candidates who are registered on our database as seeking immediate work of this type. On the day following the email being sent, our client was carrying out an induction of some 60 or so workers, the vast majority of whom were Polish. Inductions are carried out in groups where the same language can be used; there are important legal requirements for an employer to comply with which necessitates induction and training to be given in the employee’s first language. As it happened, on this occasion, our client had informed us that there were still vacancies in this induction programme and therefore we were seeking, at very short notice, for Polish speaking workers who could join the group already in place. There was nothing unlawful about this.

“We do recruit workers of all nationalities and indeed we have British workers being inducted at this factory for work with this client.”

He added: “It is a regret that the email got sent out. Lessons have been learned.”

He said he had spoken to Max Hilliard, the boss of Forza Meats, yesterday and there “was an exchange of views”. He said he hoped they would continue to be able to work together.

Mr Hilliard said there was a “breakdown in communication” with OSR. “I cannot say how this error came about, perhaps a glib comment was made about the difficulty of operating in several different languages, I don’t know but we would never turn down an English person for a job on the basis that they didn’t speak Polish or any other language.”

OSR employs more than 30 staff and finds workers in areas including sales, marketing, management, customer service, administration, finance and hospitality as well as factory work. Their website includes testimonials from Norwich construction company May Gurney and the Somerleyton estate in north Suffolk.

Mr Bardwell said: “We are not the sort of agency that ship in workers from eastern Europe to work in factories.”


Islamophobia: Unpacking a very difficult question…

Some say ‘Islamophobia’ is a form of racism. Others say there is plenty to hate and fear in Islamic
theology. Islamic fundamentalists try to threaten and silence any criticism or mockery of Islam, while tabloid
newspapers print scare stories demonising ordinary Muslims with regularity.

And of course, the far-right use supposed opposition to “Islam” as a proxy for racism. In the meantime, secularists are hoping for an honest discussion about a religion with increasing influence in the social and political life of the country.

Yes, there is a lot to talk about.

There should be no established state religion.

The state should not fund religious activities.

The state should not fund religious proselytising in any
form and the provision of all services using public money
should be religiously neutral.

The state should not prescribe, proscribe, or amend
religious doctrine.

The state should not interfere in religious hierarchies, nor
interfere in issues strictly related to membership.

No action by the state should have the primary effect of
engaging in religious practice.

No state action should have the primary effect of
restricting religious practice.

The state should not express any religious beliefs, or in
any publication, speech, or other implement of state
power such as currency, sworn testimony, oath of fealty
to the state, or endorsements of national pride. The state
should not imply any derivation of authority from any
religious authority, nor should it express temporal
supremacy in relation to religious belief or practice.

Political leaders should not express religious preferences
in the course of their duties.

No religion or denomination should have the power to
prescribe, proscribe, or amend civil or common law.

FROM THE LEAFET Unpacking Islamophobia

Available from the National Secular Society


Re-think urged on Norfolk fire cover cuts

Fire chiefs were urged to think again on plans to cut the level of cover in Norfolk amid fears lives would be put at risk and the impact of proposals for thousands of new homes in the county had not been taken into account.

Around 80 firefighters from across the county took part in a demonstra-tion outside County Hall yesterday to protest at the planned changes which would see the number of crews reduced from five to four when Bethel Street station is replaced by the new Carrow Station, in Trowse in 2011, and shifting a full- time crew from Great Yarmouth to Gorleston to replace the retained cover.

Six retained stations – Cromer, Dereham, Diss, Fakenham, Sandringham, and Wymondham – will each lose two firefighters and there will be new smaller rescue vehicles, while a new second station is planned at King’s Lynn.

Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service bosses are looking to save £1.5m with a new safety plan which will see 42 posts lost across the county, including 24 in Norwich, 14 at Gorleston, and 12 in the six retained stations.

Jamie Wyatt, brigade secretary of Norfolk FBU, said firefighters had joined the protest because they were worried and angry about the cuts.

“These cuts could potentially lose 50 firefighters’ jobs,” he said. “If they cut these posts, cover will be affected. They are making cuts which are purely financial. Our main concern is the safety aspect both of the crews and the public. It will take longer to deal with incidents and there will be more delays.”

Brigade bosses said the changes would help deliver better response times to incidents for the first crews and boost cover in rural areas.

But opposition councillors questioned the plans and warned that lives could be put at risk, and they said a decision should be put on hold until it was clear if a new unitary council for the city would be created.

Labour councillor Colleen Walker said the changes failed to take into account plans for hundreds of new homes in Gorleston.

“This report isn’t factually correct, it’s somewhat flawed and the information is misleading,” she said. “These increases haven’t been considered. Nobody has consulted me as a county councillor, and nobody has mentioned what happens if Norwich becomes a unitary authority – Norwich will be split and that’s not been taken into account.”

Green councillor Andrew Boswell said the report contained too many baffling statistics.

“I find the statistics very difficult to unravel; these numbers mean nothing to us,” he said. “They need to be thinking about the future and putting in more services, not taking them away.”

Lib Dem councillor David Callaby questioned why the authority had paid £25,000 to consultants to draw up the change plans. “This piece of work should have been done by our own in-house employees,” he added.

Richard Elliott, chief fire officer, said: “Statistics can be baffling, I admit that, but what’s really important in terms of emergency response is how quickly you can get to the scene with that first fire engine. If you are going to make an impact on that incident, that really makes a difference.

“We are going to have another fire station at King’s Lynn, which will increase fire cover and the ability to make a first response, and in Gorleston you are going to get a quicker first response. You don’t need statistics to be able to understand that in Norwich it’s about getting the first response quickly where the greatest resource is.”

Members of the cabinet will consider the plans ahead of a public consultation in the summer, with a final decision expected later in the year.


Standing Up For Our Local Communities And Our Interests – How Best To Organise And Take Action?

Community Action Gathering

Community Action Gathering
Saturday March 27th 2010
11am – 5pm
Sumac Centre, Nottingham

245 Gladstone Street, Nottingham NG7 6HX

– how best to organise and take action?

To all radical, community-orientated local groups and individuals throughout the country…..

Dear friends

We are inviting you to a UK-wide Community Action gathering in Nottingham on Saturday 27th March. The aim of the event is to share information and experiences, and exchange our views as local activists. Obviously, there’s only so much that we can do at one event. But we hope to work out how to promote the concept of community action effectively, to establish better links and communication channels among local groups, and encourage new ones to flourish all over the UK. That way we will be more effective and be able to make a real difference in our communities.
– Hide quoted text –

– Which issues should be our main priorities?
– How do immediate practical concerns link to the need for fundamental social change?
– What is our relationship with local residents’ groups and broad-based campaigns?
– Are we having the effect we’d like?

This event aims, through workshop discussions, to:

· share information, local experiences and views about some of the key issues affecting our communities
· establish better links and communication channels among radical, community-orientated local groups and individuals
· promote collective and non-hierarchical, open and horizontal forms of organisation
· promote anti-authoritarian, anti-state, anti-capitalist and pro-community, pro-working class grass-roots politics – that is, the interests of people rather than of governments and corporations!

The full Agenda and workshop themes are set out below. An informal social event is also being planned for the Saturday evening at the Sumac Centre (which in any case has a bar).

Please fill in the questionnaire below so we know roughly how many people to expect. You are invited to add the following details:

· Would you like to help introduce one of the planned discussions (see the list of workshops below)?
· Do you need us to arrange accommodation?
· Can you make a donation towards the costs?

best wishes and solidarity

– some members of the Community Action elist
CAG 2010 c/o James

Note: Feel free to join the list! http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CommunityActionList When doing so please let us know your name and where you live.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

– Hide quoted text –

Please fill in and return to CAG 2010 c/o James communityactionnetworkuk@googlemail.com

Yes, I / we hope to attend ……..

Name of group [if applicable] ………………………………………

We expect around …….. of us to attend.

We’ll need accommodation: Friday ……. Saturday ….. [number]

We’d like to help kick off the discussion on [workshop theme] …………………………….

Contact: Name ……………………………..

Address …………………………………………………………….

Tel ………………………….. Email …………………………………………

Donation ££ ___ (just bring along to the gathering)



11am Arrival / refreshments. Discussions about the agenda.
12 noon Introduction to the event. Brief introduction and very brief reports from each group present.
1pm First workshops/discussions session [See list below]
2.15pm Break for refreshments
2..45pm Brief plenary
3pm Second workshops/discussions session [See list below]
4.15pm Report backs from discussions. Plenary on how activists can work together better to support our communities and local struggles… How do we promote the concept of community action, and develop and expand our network?
5pm End and clear up

Evening Informal social

Note: if requested, we might be able to organise an ‘overflow’ discussion on Sunday 28th, around midday…

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


1. Fighting for the local services and facilities we need
2. Our neighbourhoods – improving our streets, our local environment and community spirit
3. Decent and affordable housing for all
4. Regeneration, gentrification and planning
5. Local workplace struggles and issues

SECOND SESSION – strategies
6. Community centres and social centres
7. Interaction with residents and existing residents’ groups
8. Councils – how should we relate to them?
9. How to set up local groups
10. Communication techniques and strategies (newsletters, mailing lists, leaflets etc)

For all discussions

– what are our long term aims and what can we do in the here and now to work towards them?
– What are the existing struggles, campaigns and grass-roots groups which show the way forward?

1. Fighting for the local services and facilities we needHow do we put pressure on those controlling community resources and services to get the improvements we need – education, healthcare, leisure facilities, parks, playcentres, community centres, council services etc? Should our communities take them over? If so, how? What is the role for user groups? Can people set up their own services?

2. Our neighbourhoods – improving our streets, our local environment and community spirit
What kind of neighbourhoods do we want? How do we get safer, greener and friendlier streets? How do we get rid of ugly and oppressive features (billboards, speeding traffic, mobile phone masts, too much concrete etc)? How can we build up community spirit and neighbourliness, and ‘take ownership’ of our areas?

3. Decent and affordable housing for all
How can we ensure decent housing for all. Can homelessness be countered by occupations of empty homes and buildings? How can council house residents defend public and ’social’ housing against privatisation and gentrification, and fight for more control over their homes? How can private tenants and mortgage-payers stand up to landlords and money-lending institutions etc. What are the pros and cons of housing co-ops?

4. Regeneration, gentrification and planning
Can regeneration and ‘urban development’ benefit our communities? If so, how can people ensure their real needs are addressed? Is regeneration often a cover for gentrification and undermining working class areas and facilities (threatening established housing, green spaces, pubs, community centres, small shopping parades etc) – if so what can be done about it? How are communities resisting private developers and unwanted mega-projects?

5. Local workplace struggles and issues
How do workers and workplaces link into community issues and struggles? How can communities directly link up with and support local workers, and vice-versa (eg. community boycotts and industrial action etc)? Should we work with trade unions or encourage independent workplace self-organisation?

6. Community centres and social centres
What kind of meeting places do local communities need? What are the pros and cons of existing community centres? Where else can people get together (clubs, pubs, cafes, parks, playgroups, church halls etc)? How can radical, self-organised social centres really make a difference in local areas?

7. Interaction with residents and existing residents’ groups
How can activists communicate better with our neighbours and our local communities? How do we interact with community-based groups of all kinds (especially residents associations and others who are committed to their communities)? What kind of activities can bring people together in a positive way – eg. single issue campaigning, public meetings and discussions, local festivals and street parties, informal sports, picnics, pub quizzes etc? How can such activities help build up a culture of local independence and resistance?

8. Councils – how should we relate to them?
What attitude should community activists have towards councils? Councils exercise huge influence over how resources (etc) are allocated – how do people work towards real local control and self-management over all decision-making and resources? Is it possible to support local pro-community and pro-working class election candidates and at the same time emphasise the limits of municipal democracy? Or is it better to lobby Council officers and councillors from the outside, or just ignore/boycott them and rely on direct action? In the absence of mass-participation how does a local group gauge its support in the community?

9. How to set up local groups
Is there a fundamental difference between local ‘political / radical’ groups and local ‘community’ groups, or are they complementary forms of self-organisation? How can such groups spread to every locality, especially in predominantly working class areas? Can community-based single issue campaigns lead to permanent local organisations? How do we ensure that such groups are independent, inclusive, accountable to their communities, take up a wide range of relevant issues, and promote mutual aid and solidarity?

10. Communication techniques and strategies (newsletters, mailing lists, leaflets etc)
What practical methods are the best ways of spreading information, building up communication channels, and encouraging and inspiring people to get involved in the life of their community and to join in with local groups and campaigns? What are the benefits of leaflets, public meetings, newsletters, minutes, email lists, websites, door-to-door visits/questionnaires, notice boards, posters, phone trees etc?


Norfolk Community Action Group Public Meeting Wed 3rd March

Guest Speaker Martin Lux.

Belvedere Centre, Belvoir St, Norwich.

Pensioners Day Centres To Face Closure?

Time running out for comments on day centre closure plan

Pensioners battling to stop their day centres from closing have urged people to make their voices heard – as the clock ticks down on the end of consultation.

Norfolk people have one week left to give their views on proposals for the Essex Rooms, Silver Rooms and the two social services days at Hempnall Mill.

Norfolk County Council revealed last year that it was proposing to close the council-run centres as part of a switch to focusing day services for people with dementia and re-ablement needs.

That sparked outrage from pensioners who use the day centres, along with their families, who say the centres are a lifeline for the people who use them.

Pensioners collected petitions and organised public meetings to try to keep the centres open, while the county council launched a consultation over the proposals in the middle of December.

Council chiefs said they wanted to hear more about the people who use the centres ahead of a final decision which is due on June 14, and say people will be offered an alternative service.

People have until next Monday to have their say.

David Harwood, cabinet member for adult social services at Norfolk County Council, said: “Having a range of day opportunities which suit all needs and tastes is important because it helps people to live independently in their own homes for longer.

“We recognise that traditional day centres are still a much-needed service, but also realise that we will be expected to do more with less money – and therefore we must focus our in-house services on those with the greatest need.

“It’s important to stress that whatever the outcome, no-one will be left without a service. Everyone who is currently attends the Essex Rooms, Silver Rooms or the two social services days at Hempnall Mill will be offered a replacement service, although it may not be at the day centre that they are using at the moment. Groups of friends will be kept together, where possible.”

But Hilda Bullen, 81, who uses the Silver Rooms, said: “We still want people to let the council know that we don’t want the centres to close. There’s not long left for the consultation now so we have to stay on the ball.”

The pensioners are planning an open meeting at the Silver Rooms on Thursday , from 2pm until 4pm, when people are invited to join them to talk about the future of the centre.

To request a paper copy of the county council’s consultation, call 0344 800 8020, visit http://www.YourNorfolkYourSay.org or e-mail dayservicesconsultation@norfolk.gov.uk